We like to think of ourselves as harmless – leaving soft footprints in the sand that after a few hours wash away as if they never were there at all. We think of ourselves a culture that treads lightly over the filth and mud of "lesser" humans, animals and savages that live in the woods. We think that every voyage we make is for the betterment of someone else, that everything we touch becomes bread and honey. Quite frankly, many Americans believe we are the shining light of the world.

However, the footprints that we leave do not disappear and are not forgotten. We often leave lasting impressions and changes everywhere we are and, usually, for the worst. My time here in Latin America has not only showed me how this messy habit of ours has been largely excluded from traditional American history and the contemporary American narrative, but also how we, to be blunt, have a tendency to ruin the lives of other people.

No high school history class ever mentions the destructive hand America played in installing ruthless dictators in several Latin American countries during the 1900s. Countries like Nicaragua and Guatemala, who both currently suffer from extreme poverty, class gaps and ruthless armies, still pay the consequences of American influence. Just a glance at the poverty in Venezuela or its oil market will show tells a story of American interference. Nor, do these classes mention how America continued and maintained modern slavery in the 1940s-1960s in Central America by investing heavily in the United Fruit Company, whose owner actually had ties to the White House.

Resha Swanson b-footprints

More recently, the "American effect" can be seen in the impact of our tourism. In places like Costa Rica, where the rich biodiversity and abundant wildlife attract millions of people each year, one can see the beauty disappearing slowly. Multinational companies such as Century 21 and Remax illegally obtain land from locals and build over wildlife reserves in order to create "all-inclusive hotels". Americans, as well as Europeans, who've have been making a mess of other countries and continents since Christopher Columbus, stay in these hotels, which use extremely high volumes of water that is pilfered from surrounding towns and villages. Not to mention, the "all inclusive" aspect of the hotels means all meals and recreational activities are produced by the hotels, and therefore, leave almost no money floating into the local economy. On a micro scale, we leave trash like a trail of breadcrumbs – plastic bottles and bags blazing the paths we travel, causing unmeasurable damage to the native wildlife. I've heard many tourists express their skepticism about spending money and time with those locals and their fear of traveling outside of their hotels, a clear demonstration of how our prejudices can transcend all borders.

Instead of romantic heroism and adoration, many Central Americans harbor a generational resentment for America. And honestly, how can I blame them? America is a room cleaned by a small child – pristine at first site. But when one opens the closet and looks under the bed, one can see the innumerable secrets and messes that it hides. In order to move forward and more importantly, to fix all the messes we've made, we must openly acknowledge the harm that we've done. As a country, we must celebrate the good and claim the bad. We must take a minute to look behind us and contemplate the trail that we've blazed; because not all footprints wash away. 

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